JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Rick Stansbury has made the most of his one-year deal at Mississippi State.
Eighteen years after joining Richard Williams' staff on a one-and-done fill-in contract, Stansbury is one away from his 200th career victory as the Bulldogs seek their 10th straight win Wednesday at Arkansas.
He's pushed the Bulldogs to the top of the Southeastern Conference with the same ``relentless'' work ethic that made Williams hire him when fortune gave Stansbury an unexpected chance at a full-time job back in 1990.
``I put him on the road with the understanding that we would evaluate and see how he did,'' Williams said. ``He's just a tremendously hard worker. Nobody would outwork him.''
Stansbury has won the SEC tournament and the regular season title in his 10 years, along with three division titles. He's averages 20 wins per season and has guided the team to seven postseason appearances. But the job he's done this season transforming the Bulldogs from timid pups who started 5-5 into a snarling defensive nightmare that's 5-0 in conference play has been among his best.
``You've got to give all the credit to Stansbury. The scouting reports and everything, the detail, you've just got to give those coaches credit,'' senior forward Charles Rhodes said. ``They brought us together.''
Stansbury passed Williams (191) for most career victories earlier this season to little fanfare and would like the 200 milestone to pass just as quietly.
``The only thing that matters this time of year is that next game,'' Stansbury said. ``I'm not looking at 200. I'm just looking at Arkansas and 6-0. Six-and-oh is a lot more important to me.''
That the Bulldogs have won nine straight games should come as a surprise to anyone who watched them in November and December. They entered the season with high expectations, but were hindered by inexperience with three new starters and mostly freshmen reserves.
While the mounting losses were frustrating, Stansbury was able to see positives. Four of the losses came to experienced teams that could be seen again around tournament time - Clemson, the two Miami schools and Southern Illinois.
Mississippi State had leads in the final minute of those games, but made critical mistakes. Their fifth loss came at South Alabama, which has won 13 straight and is 28th in the NCAA's RPI.
While that series of losses has kept the Bulldogs out of the Top 25, they're benefiting from the lessons they learned. Seven of the nine players who appeared in an 88-68 win over No. 24 Mississippi on Saturday were either freshmen or sophomores.
``The freshmen have stepped up,'' Stansbury said. ``Some guys you couldn't even get off your bench early now are stepping up and really contributing and playing major roles. That's what's rewarding. That's what I like. I think our team has gained some confidence through all of this.''
Williams said the Bulldogs would be nowhere, though, without Stansbury's knack for bringing talent to Starkville. The former coach, who retired in 1998, said Stansbury's recruiting helped build Mississippi State into a national contender in the mid-1990s with appearances in the round of 16 in 1995 and the Final Four in 1996.
Over the years he has lured some of the nation's top players to Starkville, only to be burned by early entries into the NBA. He now has what Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy called the best 1-2 punch in the league with Jamont Gordon and Rhodes.
They had options to go elsewhere, but Stansbury was tireless in making the case for Starkville.
``I can just remember when I was in high school my senior year, he was just supporting me all the time,'' Rhodes said. ``He came to all my games, he came to my house, just to make sure I was doing the right thing. That just really made me want to come here.
``He showed that he cared.''
Those who know Stansbury say persistence has been his greatest virtue as a coach and recruiter. When he sets his mind to a goal, he almost always achieves it.
One of Williams' favorite memories of Stansbury is his pursuit of Marcus Grant, a Macon, Ga., native who is now a Bulldogs assistant.
Grant decided he was going to Northwestern after a visit and told Stansbury he was canceling his planned trip to Starkville.
``I thought that was the end of the story,'' Grant said. ``Then about midnight, 1 a.m., somebody was knocking at my door. Of course, I was asleep at this time, but my mom went to the door. She's like, 'No, get away, get away. This recruiting is over, he's made a decision.' Of course, he sweet-talked his way in.''

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